Patrick Diegnan Seeks Safeguards for Virtual Charter Schools

Earlier this week, education commissioner Chris Cerf denied final approval for two proposed online charter schools. Patrick Diegnan (D-18), chairman of Assembly Education Committee, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he applauds the decision.

“Lets not get ahead of ourselves with virtual charters,” said Diegnan. “The whole concept of education is changing but virtual charters [are] a really a revolutionary proposal and I think we have to study it appropriately and put the proper safeguards in place.”

According to Diegnan, charter schools were originally intended to be incubators that come up with cooperative ventures for public schools. Now that they’ve become much more prevalent, he says there have been hits and misses.

“My whole purpose is to put in place standards that can be looked at objectively on a consistent, transparent basis so that people know what to expect and we can put integrity and accountability into the system,” he said.

Diegnan insists that he is not anti-charter school and is in favor of anything that makes the education system in the state of New Jersey vibrant.

“I am one of those folks who think our public education in New Jersey K-12 is exceptional,” Diegnan said. “I think that charter schools are part of that exceptional system and my whole purpose is to make the charter schools more valid, more secure and more predictable.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that the Newark school board would regain control of fiscal operations from the state for the first time in 18 years.

The news was welcome to Diegnan who opposes state control of public schools.

“You cannot have the school system apart from the people that it represents,” he said. “All the schools that are under state control should be put back under control of the communities as soon as possible.”

Diegnan also opposes the allocation of state funds to religious schools like the orthodox rabbinical school in Lakewood which was granted $10 million by the state.

“The American society is based on the separation of church and state,” said Diegnan. “This particular rabbinical school is not a public school. Women aren’t even allowed in the school. You aren’t even allowed to date if you’re attending the school. It’s not what public dollars should be used for…. Going forward, this type of institution should not be included [for future allocations].”

When asked about the governor’s announcement naming state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa the interim successor to fill the vacated seat of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Diegnan said, “I commend the governor an outstanding choice.”

However, he does not commend Gov. Christie’s decision to hold a special election in October instead of in November.

“We don’t want New Jersey to be known as the state with two of everything,” he said. “We don’t need two elections. The governor should stand up to the plate and the senatorial election should be the same day as the general election.”